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Wine, women... and scarves

'Tis the season for giving special gift packs thanks to a Ryerson alumna
By Shirley Moore

Sarah Liberatore

This year, you'll be able to buy the favourite woman in your life something special at the LCBO courtesy of a Ryerson grad.

Sarah Liberatore has just launched a marketing gem, a special STLTO Wine limited-edition gift box available in stores across Ontario for the holiday season. The box includes a bottle of red wine - a malbec-merlot blend - and a sequin-embellished pashmina scarf. Her product is aimed at women between 25 and 35, although she's finding women over 35 are also buying her wines.

The gift-pack is gaining attention. The Toronto Star's wine critic named it his favourite wine gift of the season.

"I just came up with it," says Liberatore of how the idea started. "Even when I was at Ryerson as a student, profs were always commenting on how I was always wearing a scarf."

Liberatore started her own wine company as she was completing her degree in commerce with a marketing major and thinking of what to do next.

"I wanted to create something. I had a pile of assignments and was all stressed out. I poured myself a glass of wine and thought 'I could make this,' but laughed it off."

She did some research and realized that although 80 per cent of women in North America purchase wine, Italy had no wines targeted specifically to them. She visited the winery of family friends in Abruzzo and told them about her idea of a concept brand for women.

"They didn't understand," she says. "One of them looked at me like 'Have you lost your mind? You want to put a wine with a shoe on it?'"

Liberatore finally convinced them. She wanted a quality product, nothing "gimmicky." She used her savings to buy half of the friends' winery, worked with a winemaker and owns her brand outright. The name STLTO is a play on the fashionable women's "stiletto" shoe and an acronym that stands for sophisticated, timeless, lavish, trendy and outstanding. In addition to the red, Liberatore offers an unoaked chardonnay.

Getting it into the Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores was an uphill battle however. It took approximately two years to get the LCBO to carry it.

"It was very difficult," she says. "The LCBO was worried about a concept brand from Italy. 'Will it be successful?' was their question." The organization started carrying it in June, but her work doesn't end there. Liberatore has been to 400 of the more than 600 stores in the province, and has to keep going back to get managers to stock it.

The good news is that The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and The National Post all gave the STLTO red very favourable reviews (with the Post giving the white good reviews as well) and she has seen a lot of interest from women and mom-bloggers. As a bonus, the wine is "guilt-free" Liberatore says. Only 100 calories in a glass of red, and 96 in a glass of white.

She thinks perhaps in the future she may return to school, but for now, wine is definitely in Liberatore's blood.

"I really think it has to do with my whole Italian background. Growing up, I'd see this huge culture behind it in Italy. I just got into it. I say just kick up your heels and chill out."


The STLTO limited edition gift pack comes with one of five pashmina scarves and is available at the Atrium's LCBO store and other select stores for $19.95. The white and red are also available at the LCBO for $11.95.


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